One of the most common criticisms I receive is that somehow I must lead this perfectly charming, easy little life without worry and that if, in fact, I had ever suffered even the slightest, I would be more patient and understanding to those who like to live in a pitiful, complaining and negative world full-time. I would write less “good” stories because in the real world where there’s real problems, it’s not so easy to be kind.
Some people still haven’t realised that pain for everyone is inevitable; suffering, however, is always optional. It’s not a hard concept, in fact, I know an eleven year old girl who understands.
As a lunch buddy last year, I would once a week go to a local middle school and spend a lunch hour with an awkward 11 year old girl. She was Mexican, spoke with an accent and came from a poor family who didn’t have extra money for the latest, coolest gear or hair cuts at a salon. She was a sweet, bright, caring girl but kids wouldn’t see that when they looked at her; they’d just see a target.
On one visit she came running to me, crying. I put my arms around her and held her until the sobbing subsided. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me I couldn’t understand. When I asked her why not and she told me, “Because you’re pretty and everything is easy for you. You don’t know what’s it’s like to be made fun of.”
I just let her cry it all out for the rest of the hour.
However, the next week I brought her a photograph. When I showed it to her, she laughed at it; she made fun of the girl with the short, choppy boy hairdo, the fang teeth, and the funky clothes.
“That was me when I was exactly your age,” I told her. She looked at me in disbelief.
“When I was your age, I had just had my second surgery which caused my hair to break off and fall out. People called me ugly boy all the time. I was born with extra teeth which stood out like fangs in my mouth which was a horrible thing especially since I liked to laugh and smile so much. I limped because I was learning how to walk again and couldn’t play sports for awhile like all the cool kids in my class. And my clothes? Well, my idea of style was much different from my peers and they let me know it every single day.
But you know what? Thats just what happens sometimes. Sometimes you’re going to be awkward. Sometimes people are going to be mean and hurtful, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Sometimes you’re going to be uncool and not fit in, even if you try. Sometimes you’re going to feel like things will never get better and never be different. But here is the thing that is so important to remember: those times aren’t forever – they’re just moments.
Hard moments, sad moments, painful moments, but moments just the same. And you know, moments don’t last forever. In fact, you get to chose which moments are going to mean something, which moments are going to define you. That’s the beautiful thing about being smart like you are. You can remember all the good moments you have and let those be what matter. The bad ones will shape you certainly, but they don’t have to define you. Ever.”
A couple of weeks later, we walked down the hallway to the lunchroom and a snippy little girl made one of the usual comments to her. She looked at the little girl but didn’t cry, instead she continued to walk with me to lunch. We sat outside, ate our lunch as we talked about all the places we’d go when we grew up and the rides that scared us the most at Disneyland. When I walked her back to her classroom she said to me, “Those moments when we were laughing? That’s what I’m going to remember about today.”
I knew right then, that this girl was going to be just fine.